On an otherwise typical Saturday last October, Google shocked the world when they announced with little fanfare through the official Google blog that they had been developing and testing robotic cars on public roads throughout California. At that point, Google’s robo-cars had wracked up over 140,000 miles of driving.
According to Google, they had taken a look at the numbers and decided that car safety was an important worldwide problem that technology could be employed in solving. And thus, they developed technology that allows cars to drive themselves.
Just how big an issue is car safety? Let’s look at statistics for traffic fatalities: In the United States, about 40,000 people lose their lives each year to car accidents as stated in the NHTSA annual reports of U.S. traffic fatalities. Worldwide, more than 1.2 million people are killed every year, according to statistics gathered by the World Health Organization.
Technology in automobiles isn’t a new concept. Automakers have been adding bits and pieces of advanced technology for years to our cars. But the technology employed by Google is well beyond anything seen before. Their robo-cars use a combination of different sensing equipment, including video cameras, radar and laser. These sensors work in conjunction with detailed maps and GPS units. All of the processing – the “thinking” that allows the cars to operate without human intervention – takes place in Google’s data centers.
I’m not ready to give these autonomous, self-driving cars my seal of approval just yet, but they’re undoubtedly superior to a car manned by someone surfing the web or engaging in otherwise distracting behaviors. But I’m certain they are something we’ll all have in the future.
What do you think about these cars? Are you willing to share roads with them? Would you be willing to own one yourself? Sound off and let us know! And be sure to check out the videos after the break. They were captured when Google gave demonstrations of their robo-cars as part of the TED 2011 conference last week.